This is not only our first cruise on MSC Cruises Meraviglia, it is our first cruise in general. This review is based on our experience and is not compared to any other cruise line or ship in this brand, because we have no comparison to provide.
Our trip was a one week cruise from New York to the Bahamas and back. This review is about the entire experience with MSC Cruises and the Meraviglia, from registration through disembarkation in June 2023. This article is our personal perspective and does not account for changes in their website, fleet or company since the date of our experience.
Registration for our cruise was fairly simply through the MSC USA web-site. We took advantage of a sale for the MSC Meraviglia, registering in late February for our June cruise. We paid in full, including fees, when we registered. Interior stateroom for two adults with taxes, fees and travel insurance was US$1790. We haven’t talked about add-ons like beverages and entertainment.
From the day we registered, just about every other day (at least three times a week) we’d receive an email solicitation to add excursions, spa, food and drink packages to our cruise. Randomly we’d receive a booking confirmation, even when we hadn’t made a change to our cruise. Our booking was confirmed about a dozen times through the few months between registration and our cruise.
As already indicated, registering for our cruise was fairly simple. Unfortunately, the website is not designed to allow customers to review their booked cruise. It is functions for sales only – period.
After logging into the MSC Cruises USA website, we cannot interface with our booking at all. Although the site indicates the ability to see your cruise and attach it to your profile, it simply didn’t work. Every time, the website throws an error. I tried reaching out to MSC Customer Service. Their live telephone service is unable to help with this issue and said I’d have to email the Existing Reservations department. Shortly after doing this, I received an automated confirmation email with a reference ticket number. And then I never heard back. Each week I sent a follow-up email, but no one responded and even the day of my cruise, the booking was not showing in my account and they hadn’t responded to the request.
The website is loaded with a remarkable number of spelling errors and some areas have no spaces between the words.
I cannot interface with our cruise booking through their website, but I can add items like food and beverage packages, excursions and more. Rather than logging into the website with credentials, like a normal website, we go to the “Manage Booking” page to provide our booking number and some personal details that help authenticate our cruise booking. Now we have access to add items and pay for them – we cannot review the booking or add-ons that we already purchased.
Packages and Excursions
Enough grumbling about the defective website. Let’s talk add-ons.
Based on information we’ve gotten from friends, just about all cruise lines provided a basic food package as part of the booking. In the case of MSC Meraviglia, this basic food package gives us access to the buffet for all meals and two main restaurants for dinner. The specialty restaurants are not included in the basic food package. Then again neither are beverages, except tap water, coffee and tea, and some juices at the buffet.
As much as we love good food, we are not foodies enough to pay the exorbitant price to add the specialty restaurants. We’re not talking a minor increase, like an “upgrade” from a base package. We’re talking US$99 per person to add the steak restaurant for one visit, in example. About $25 per person is the advanced purchase add-on for some of the other specialty restaurants; onboard is about forty-percent more.
Kaliyah pretty much just drinks water. I on the other hand enjoy coffee and juice with my breakfast, and iced tea or soda with my lunch and dinner. We figured we’d get the non-alcoholic package for me. Things didn’t work out this way. MSC’s system forces all persons on the booking to get the same beverage package. We had to pay nearly US$400 for the alcohol free package for us both, just so I could have coffee, juice and soda. Worse yet, this package does not include beverages at the specialty restaurants or the coffee shop where the costs of beverages are more than Starbucks for a smaller portion.
It turned out that iced tea, juice and coffee were included at the buffet and the assigned dinner restaurant. Technically speaking, we didn’t need to purchase a beverage package. It did work out nicely though, because we could get soda, bottled water, non-alcoholic beverages, and even espresso drinks at any of the ships bars under our package. We enjoyed their Nojito drink, which is a non-alcoholic mojito.
Unless in a Yacht Club stateroom, the room’s mini-bar is not covered by any beverage package. We didn’t touch ours. It is locked during embarkation and disembarkation days.
Oddly, MSC offers an excursion on Embarkation day. What it actually is, is a multi-excursion package including bus tour, ferry ride with secluded beach, and snorkeling. I couldn’t tell you what it costs, because the package details were scrambled. One of the flaws on the website I mentioned earlier in this article.
The single day we docked in Florida at Port Canaveral, there are a couple transportation excursions available. The most unusual being a transport to and from Disney World. Our boat is in port for only eight hours. Transport to and from Disney World is about an hour each way. Everyone must be boarded an hour before the ship leaves dock, giving only a five hour visit to the park. Just enough time to enter the park hop on a few rides and head back to the ship.
Due to the location of the terminal at Port Canaveral, there are not any places to visit in walking distance. A ‘motorized vehicles only’ bridge separates the cruise terminal from the next land mass – and over there is just marinas.
In the Bahamas are several excursions – from just renting a floating beach mat to snorkeling and an opportunity for encountering sea lions.
We decided not to take any of the cruise’s excursion offerings, but instead do our own thing. There are geocaches not far from the cruise terminal in Florida and Bahamas – a great opportunity to add new regions to our experience. We were disappointed to see that Queen’s Stairs are not being maintained. There’s the remains of several electrical features (mostly lights) throughout the corridor and the remains of what appeared to be a good size multi-level water feature.
Despite having beautiful beaches and being a huge tourism target, the area in Nassau near the cruise terminal are not well maintained. Many of the buildings are dilapidated and the necessity for bars on the windows led to us being uncomfortable in some areas. Even the churches were in poor shape and barred up.
The “reef safe” mineral-based sunscreen offered on the cruise line’s private island is terrible. Not only was it expensive, but it didn’t protect from sunburn. Even with reapplication and staying out of the water, we still got burned. Not as badly as some other people we saw. Do your research and bring your own reef safe sunscreen.
MSC offers massage and nail treatment packages, as well as fitness programs and other spa packages. Their pedicure and manicure packages, as well as massage packages, were more than twice the cost of treatments we could get with a local specialist near home, so we didn’t purchase these packages. We did however go with the Thermal Area Pass, which provided us access to their saunas, steam baths, salt room, and more for the duration of the cruise. This proved very beneficial to helping relax and recover from the day’s activities.
Most of the shows onboard are included in the cruise price, including musicians. A couple shows are not included but are a reasonable charge to attend, and include one cocktail from a very short list.
The Fun Pass grants access to the onboard bowling alley, flight simulator (exclusive to Meraviglia at time of this writing), and arcade games. After reading reviews which indicated it was difficult to get time at the included entertainment items, we decided not to invest in this package. That was kind of a shame. The bowling lanes, simulators and arcade were nearly empty every time we passed by.
The photography packages are not bad considering the cost of professional portraits. We didn’t see photographers floating around much, but they did have a few backdrop and light setups mid-ship, near check-in for embarkation, and even on their private island. If MSC had provided useful information in advance, we might have bought a photography package and taken advantage of the “mini-studio” opportunities.
The photographers at the mini-studios are technically professional photographers, but they all seemed to used the same techniques and poses. They were only a step above amateur in quality. They didn’t deviate in the times we spent with them and some of our photos were awful as a result. An example would be our photos on the stairs. The photographer himself was vertically challenged. He had us go up the stairs a few steps, which means the camera lens was below our waistline as he looked up to take the picture. This is not flattering for most people. He should’ve come up with a better position; maybe even use a small step ladder to elevate himself and obtain a better perspective.
I don’t know if the photography is run by Kodak, or if Kodak’s services are used for the website and printing. Our sales people misrepresented the digital package, selling it as full camera resolution images. Instead the digital images which are provided are only 8-megapixel; barely sufficient for a quality 8×10 print. Customer service was not helpful at resolving this misrepresentation.
Don’t let the mediocre resolution digital images keep you from buying the all-inclusive digital package. The prepurchase price is very reasonable if you take full advantage of the mini-studios prior to boarding and in key parts of the ship. The 8-megapixel images are more than sufficient for social media and digital picture frames. They can also be used to make a reasonable quality 8×10 print. Part of the download package includes a file with license release details (printing and display terms).
Everyone is supposed to “Check-in” in advance of the cruise, online through your computer browser or their mobile app. Here you’ll put in your passport data and some other information. There is a portion about uploading a photograph for security use. Don’t bother with this photo; they will not use it, but instead take a new photo when you arrive at the terminal.
Boarding the ship was at a cruise terminal dock in Brooklyn. Getting off the highway is not far from the terminal, with about a mile of surface roads. During Embarkation of our cruise, the previous run was still disembarking. The biggest issue is these roads are not designed for the heavy traffic of the cruise participants, suppliers and crew. Most of this mile was moving very slowly or not at all. Make sure to give plenty of time to navigate this little nightmare.
Security is similar to at an airport. We had to empty our pockets and put our carry-on items through an x-ray machine, and then walk through a metal detector. At least we were allowed to keep our shoes on. Kaliyah’s bra underwire kept tripping the metal detector. They eventually used a detector wand and allowed her to proceed.
Our “e-tickets” were a 17 page PDF, including health forms, that we were instructed to print single-sided and present for check-in. Only the first page with our ticket numbers for each of us was used. They didn’t want anything else. That was a waste of paper and ink.
After checking in at the terminal, we were given our cruise card and assigned a boarding group number. We then had to wait in a large warehouse size room with thousands of chairs. We waited about two hours, even though we arrived at our designated embarking window. Eventually, they started calling on the boarding group numbers to embark.
Participation in an emergency drill is required after embarkation. You watch a video on the in-room television, and then use the room’s phone to call an onboard number that automatically records your acknowledgement. Once that is completed, everyone has to go to their designated gathering area to be scanned for completion of the drill. Not a big deal, but awkward.
We went with an interior stateroom to help keep the cost lower for the cruise. I also have an issue with daylight waking me, which could be a problem for any of the exterior rooms especially when facing East.
Each stateroom has just two US-style outlets and two Europe-style outlets. These outlets are at the small desk, nowhere near the bed. For travelers with a medical condition which requires electricity at the bed you can request an extension cord from onboard service desk, but getting one is not guaranteed. Calling customer service in advance did not help us gain access to a cord. Be aware, if you use an outlet adapter – most of the adapters do not convert electricity; they only convert the plug. The European plugs are 220-240 volt while US plugs and devices are usually 110-120 volt. Check that your device is compatible with the alternate voltage before plugging into a plug adapter.
The stateroom lights are controlled by a module near the entrance. Our cruise card is needed to turn on the lights. When we remove the card, the lights turn out automatically after about one minute. Ironically, the television is always on unless actually turned off.
The bathroom is very compact. Being a large man, I barely fit in the shower and on the commode. When a bigger duty was necessary, I went to one of the “public” restrooms in the forward section of the ship. Although the commodes were the same, there was significantly more room to be more comfortable during the visit and cleanup.
Be aware that the commode uses a vacuum system and makes a loud noise when flushed. This could be scary to children.
There is a retractable clothes line in the shower for hanging bathing suits. Shampoo and Body wash are provided, and are found in pumps mounted to the shower wall.
The bed in our stateroom was configured as a “King” bed, but can be split into two twin-size beds. To be honest, the bed was more like a queen. My feet hung off the end, and I frequently bumped Kaliyah when sleeping. The bed is also a bit firm – just a medium thickness mattress on top of a frame.
I assume to make housekeeping easier, there is no top sheet on the bed, just the bottom sheet and a comforter that the underside fabric was similar to the bottom sheet. I generally prefer just a top sheet for sleeping, while she prefers to use the top sheet and comforter.
The stateroom television was a 24-inch custom monitor with a few channels like two cartoon networks, ships sales and information channels, and a couple world news networks. Beyond that, there was the virtual porthole channels – one per side of the ship (port and starboard). The video rentals were limited to a couple dozen movies for $10 each. We left the TV off during our visit.
In a post-COVID world, where hotels only service your room on every second or third day, or not until you request service, the servicing of our stateroom was a delight. It appears that our steward visited the room two or three times every day. We’d get up in the morning, do breakfast and some entertainment. When we get back to our room, the bed would be made, the towels straightened up or replenished, etc. When returning to the room after dinner, we’d find anything we disturbed earlier straightened up again, and the next day’s itinerary would be at the foot of the bed. Probably the best housekeeping we have ever experienced!
MSC Mobile Application
MSC has an app for Android and Apple mobile devices. The app has a lot of promise, but many of the features do not work yet. We’re hoping it is simply still in development and the non-working features will one by one function correctly over time.
IMPORTANT – In order for the application to function and be useful, your mobile device needs to be on the MSC WiFi. The app has a couple functions that will work off-board, like advance check-in. Please note the ships WiFi is free to use onboard, however has no connectivity to outside the ship (like internet or telephone) without payment.
Person to Person and Group Messaging
One of the most useful features of the app is also not very reliable. That is the messaging function. We were able to add each of our family members on the cruise to a group, which allowed us to send messages during the cruise. Helpful if you’re doing things together but separated sometimes. The problem we had with the messaging is that sometimes messages were delayed – by a few minutes to a few hours.
Today’s events can be seen in the mobile app. Events include shows, dome displays, exercise, and other events. Note that I said “Today’s events” – you cannot see any other day. Well not entirely. In the evening, the next days activities are unlocked so we can see them.
According to signage throughout the boat, we are supposed to be able to reserve our seats for the shows, spa, and some other events. None of these worked.
Nope. The mobile app has a button for the ship map, and to help us find what we seek, but when pressed the screen flashes white and then returns to the main app screen. Fortunately, there are a few maps and interactive panels onboard to help find our way around the ship.
Meraviglia Onboard Entertainment
MSC Meraviglia is a large cruise ship with a Broadway-like theater at one end, large lounge-style theater at the other end, with lots in between.
We didn’t spend much time in the casino. There were only eight game tables and lots of video slot machines. Smoking was permitted in the casino. The smoking thing is a large part of why we didn’t spend much time there. That and the crowds around the tables.
Unfortunately, we have to pass through the casino to get to the show lounge.
The Cirque inspired shows are featured at the aft lounge. Since the boat is rocking, they don’t do some of the crazy acrobatics that we would see at a fully featured Cirque du Soleil show, but the shows are still entertaining with some acrobatics, dance and song. We saw both the Rock Circus and Houdini shows. Both shows used the same performers, but different routines and props.
The two cirque shows are not included in the cruise cost, but there is a modest charge to attend. Paid in advance, just US$12 each show for each of us. This included one cocktail each and we get to choose upon arrival which cocktail we’d like of the few options that are presented for the show.
At the forward theater, many of the presentations and theatrical events occur, including talent shows for crew and guests to show off their skills. Most shows were about 45 minutes long.
The theater seats are narrow and very uncomfortable for a large guy like me. Although we enjoyed the shows we saw, I’m glad they are short.
What would a cruise ship be without pools? MSC Meraviglia has a few pools, including the largest pool about mid-ship which has a large LED screen that they play movies or other special effects during other events.
See the spots in my picture, highlighted by the large LED screen? Those are dried sea spray on the window which I shot through. This is an important note for allergy sufferers. Even though you are far from your usual allergy triggers, don’t think you’re protected at see. That sea spray, along with chlorinated water in the hot tubs impacted my allergies, and I was not prepared. I skipped my dosages, because I was naive.
The pools onboard are salt water … literally filled from the ocean that day. Each evening, nets are stretch across the pools (for safety) and the pools are emptied.
Meraviglia Gallery and Dome Show
The main gallery of the ship has retail shops on one level and restaurants on the next level, open to a large rounded LED ceiling.
In the picture to shown here, you see one of the photographers at his mini-studio. The light unit he uses is adjusted to low enough brightness for highlighting the persons being photographed and still be able to see the ceiling behind them.
For the most part, the ceiling is showing static images, but periodically plays videos and audio is pumped over speakers throughout the gallery.
In our opinion, the chocolate shop is expensive and nothing to write home about, but across from it is a gelato store with hand-dipped cones or cups of gelato. The price is only slightly higher than the typical ice-cream shop, and the gelato is made on board.
There is also a fine jewelry store and designer clothing and accessory boutique. As typical, these are very expensive, but the sales person will “check with the manager” to get you a discount. Shh – don’t tell anyone.
At one end of the gallery is a Swarovski store and the Swarovski staircases for the main lobby. During a tour, it was mentioned that each of the stairs contains over US$5000 of their crystals.
In some of the bars, in the middle of the gallery, in the main lobby … there was just about always live music playing somewhere on the boat.
The bridge in the middle of the gallery of the gallery was used for steel drums and full bands.
Dancing was common when live rock music was being performed on the bridge.
Piano and solo artists were often playing at the main lobby between the Swarovski stairs.
There wasn’t any live music that we found on the private island. It is possible there is live music in the sections of the island restricted to Yacht Club members.
Leaving the boat at the end of the cruise was early in the day – disembarking at 7 AM; this is not an eight-day cruise guys! No day on this trip did I wake that early, except to get off the boat.
The night before, we had to be packed and leave our luggage outside our room door for collection. The luggage would be waiting for us in the warehouse as we leave and pass through customs.
Just like boarding, we were assigned a disembarkation group number. This involved going to our assigned gathering place at the scheduled disembarkment time. We were ushered down stairs and hallways to the departure doors, where we were again scanned and compared to our picture. Anyone with an unpaid balance was not allowed to leave the ship.
We found our luggage along with everyone else’s luggage in a large warehouse, near a number that matched our disembarkation group number. We collected our belongings and got in line to get through customs. This didn’t take terribly long. The customs agent didn’t talk to us at all – no questions, no instructions. He used a tablet and camera to automatically compare our photo with federal records and then we were on our way.
Total disembarkation was about 30 minutes from leaving our stateroom to being on the street.
General Summary of MSC Meraviglia
In short, our cruise on MSC Meraviglia was enjoyable, but their online and telephone customer service is lacking. If you are told by live customer service to email anybody for resolution, don’t expect resolution; ever.
Their pricing is reasonable, about par with other cruise lines. The MSC Meraviglia is larger than several of the other cruise line ships that we saw at ports or throughways. Being a larger boat helps it be more stable in rougher seas. It took us a couple days to get used to the motion; we’re afraid to try a smaller boat.